Secrets Pilots Won’t Tell You

Think you know what happens when you fly? Think again.

By Michelle Crouch from Reader's Digest

When to Worry

“It’s one thing if the pilot puts the seat belt sign on for the passengers. But if he tells the flight attendants to sit down, you’d better listen. That means there’s some serious turbulence ahead.” -John Greaves, airline accident lawyer and former airline captain, Los Angeles

“There’s no such thing as a water landing. It’s called crashing into the ocean.” -Pilot, South Carolina

“A plane flies into a massive updraft, which you can’t see on the radar at night, and it’s like hitting a giant speed bump at 500 miles an hour. It throws everything up in the air and then down very violently. That’s not the same as turbulence, which bounces everyone around for a while.” -John Nance, aviation safety analyst and retired airline captain, Seattle

“Is traveling with a baby in your lap safe? No. It’s extremely dangerous. If there’s any impact or deceleration, there’s a good chance you’re going to lose hold of your kid, and he becomes a projectile. But the government’s logic is that if we made you buy an expensive seat for your baby, you’d just drive, and you’re more likely to be injured driving than flying.” -Patrick Smith

When Not to Worry

“Pilots find it perplexing that so many people are afraid of turbulence. It’s all but impossible for turbulence to cause a crash. We avoid turbulence not because we’re afraid the wing is going to fall off but because it’s annoying.” -Patrick Smith

“People always ask, ‘What’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you?’ I tell them it was a van ride from the Los Angeles airport to the hotel, and I’m not kidding.” -Jack Stephan

“I’ve been struck by lightning twice. Most pilots have. Airplanes are built to take it. You hear a big boom and see a big flash and that’s it. You’re not going to fall out of the sky.” -Pilot for a regional carrier, Charlotte, North Carolina

PLUS: 13 Things Your Hotel Desk Clerk Won’t Tell You

We Don’t Get It

“Most of you wouldn’t consider going down the highway at 60 miles an hour without your seat belt fastened. But when we’re hurtling through the air at 500 miles an hour and we turn off the seat belt sign, half of you take your seat belts off. But if we hit a little air pocket, your head will be on the ceiling.” -Captain at a major airline

“If you’re going to recline your seat, for God’s sake, please check behind you first. You have no idea how many laptops are broken every year by boorish passengers who slam their seat back with total disregard to what’s going on behind them.” -John Nance

“There is no safest place to sit. In one accident, the people in the back are dead; in the next, it’s the people up front.” -John Nance

Advice for Nervous Fliers

“The smoothest place to sit is often over or near the wing. The bumpiest place to sit is in the back. A plane is like a seesaw. If you’re in the middle, you don’t move as much.” -Patrick Smith

“If you’re a nervous flier, book a morning flight. The heating of the ground later causes bumpier air, and it’s much more likely to thunderstorm in the afternoon.” -Jerry Johnson, pilot, Los Angeles

What Really Drives Us Crazy

“Please don’t complain to me about your lost bags or the rotten service or that the airline did this or that. My retirement was taken to help subsidize your $39 airfare.” -Pilot, South Carolina

“Here’s a news flash: We’re not sitting in the cockpit listening to the ball game. Sometimes we can ask the controllers to go to their break room to check the score. But when I fly to Pittsburgh on a Sunday afternoon, the passengers send the flight attendants up at least ten times to ask us the Steelers score.” -Commercial pilot, Charlotte, North Carolina

“I am so tired of hearing ‘Oh my God, you’re a girl pilot.’ When you see a black pilot, do you say ‘Oh my God, you’re a black pilot’?” -Pilot for a regional carrier

Those Silly Rules, Explained

“We don’t make you stow your laptop because we’re worried about electronic interference. It’s about having a projectile on your lap. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to get hit in the head by a MacBook going 200 miles per hour.” -Patrick Smith

“People don’t understand why they can’t use their cell phones. Well, what can happen is 12 people will decide to call someone just before landing, and I can get a false reading on my instruments saying that we are higher than we really are.” -Jim Tilmon

“We’re not trying to ruin your fun by making you take off your headphones. We just want you to be able to hear us if there’s an emergency.” -Patrick Smith

“We ask you to put up the window shade so the flight attendants can see outside in an emergency, to assess if one side is better for an evacuation. It also lets light into the cabin if it goes dark and helps passengers get oriented if the plane flips or rolls over.” -Patrick Smith

Plus: Who’s Really Flying Your Plane?

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